Fishing Lines: How the other half bids

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The Independent Online
AS A regular attendee at fishing auctions over the past few years, I have learned one splendid buying tactic. Don't bid at the start, when people are attentive and eager to spend money. Wait until events are almost done, when everyone is drifting off, getting bored or has simply spent their limit. Then you leap in, and wham, bargain.

A great theory, but it worked like a Bank of Toytown cheque at the International Game Fish Association's annual auction last week. This event is designed to raise money for the association. It raised $300,000 last year and brought in even more this time. The IGFA do excellent work for conservation, protecting endangered species by lobbying in high places. It controls all world angling records and has a lot of friends in very high places. The president of Panama was at the dinner. I could use a few friends like that.

I admit that I should have spotted the clues telling me that the Elliott Theory of Auction Bidding was unlikely to work. This dinner takes place at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, where a sea-front room for a night costs more than most people earn in a week. The parking lot outside has a dozen spaces reserved for limos. During the evening, there was a draw for a $10,000 cash prize; you know the sort of thing - only 200 tickets at $100, winner takes all. The woman next to me said, only half in jest: "If you won that, you could stay here for, oh, seven or eight nights." Paying for my room, I think I was the only person who didn't flash a platinum card.

A further clue: most newspapers carry some sort of personal investment column. But in the local paper here, the Palm Beach Daily News, it is not called Managing Your Money. It is Managing Your Fortune. I kid you not. OK, you get the picture. Well, the auction (which is why I'm wandering round such a flash joint in the first place) is in two parts. First, people stroll round a palatial room, leaving bids for more than 250 items on display. They range from big-game rods to gold earrings of leaping marlin. But for most people, the holidays are the attraction - steelhead fishing in northern California, tarpon fishing off Miami, tuna fishing at Maui, Hawaii.

Competition is fierce for these, but there are some bargains. I am now the proud owner of two smart fishing shirts, a hip tackle bag and two pairs of snappy shoes for just $100 (estimated total value more than $400). The others didn't want shirts. Hell, they own the companies that make them.

That bit, however, was just the aperitif. During the dinner itself, 50 lots, mostly dream holidays were up for grabs. How about seven nights' hotel and fishing at Bikini Atoll? Or three days and nights for four aboard a $1m boat off Tonga? Peacock bass fishing and accommodation for a week in the Amazon rainforest?

There was even the chance to star in one of ESPN's fishing programmes. It seems a lot of people fancied the idea of seeing themselves on television. That one made $7,000, but it was far from the most expensive item. A 32ft fishing boat with twin 250hp engines (yup, that was in the hotel too, and I wonder how the new owner got it home) sold for $65,000.

Well, so much for my dreams of coming home and saying to my wife, "Guess what, dear? I've sorted this year's holiday - a week at a five-star hotel at Comandatuba Island, Brazil". Or giving her a pendant with a black pearl from the Tuamotu Islands in the South Pacific.

The people on my table were very pleasant - and very rich. They joined in and played at bidding, but they didn't really need the holidays because they all owned boats in exotic places, and one person had two. Well, I may not have nicked a cheap holiday, but I've secured something pretty good. The chap who sat next to me, who once owned his own fleet of fishing boats, has offered to take me out from Palm Beach on his own boat. As long as I don't have to stay in The Breakers while I'm trying to fix this up, this could prove a very good week.